Friday, 7 June 2013

Why the British can't handle their cheese

I don't know many people who wouldn't agree that a slice of lightly-toasted white bread is improved enormously by an oozing layer of melted mature Cheddar. And yet, when it comes to cheese in its abstract form, most prevalent in American TV drama series, we wince and cringe. Why is it that we, as a nation, cannot produce or watch cheesiness without grimacing?

My investigation begins with a definition of the term 'cheesy'. I would describe a cheesy moment as one that is needlessly sentimental and completely unrealistic, which is blatantly motivated by a need to manipulate the whole audience's emotions, with the subtlety of Taylor Swift. Here is a classic cheesy moment demonstrated by Cameron Diaz in The Holiday:
Oh look, the thought of separation from Jude Law has caused her to cry for the first time since her parents' divorce. She must go back and show him. Off she goes, running across snow and ice in stilettos. Cameron Diaz is, of course, invincible - she is not fazed by the pain of sprinting in heels or fear of slipping and damaging her award-winning face. No, true love beckons, and that is the only explanation we are given for this frankly death-defying feat. Bravo, Ms. Diaz.

This kind of scene always causes me to don my sarcastic goggles without any prior thought, like an automatic trigger. Here is a particularly excruciating clip from a British film, featuring Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult:
Note the persistent jeers and laughter of the students, drawing attention to how awful and cringeworthy this scene is, echoing and amplifying our own knee-jerk responses. The cheesiness is addressed and acknowledged; we are comforted by the fact that the film-makers feel just as we feel.

Of course, the American film industry is far larger than that of the U.K., meaning that they can afford to chuck in the same old clichés and be sure of making a killing (me softly) at the box office. However, I think there is a genre of film/television where we allow cheese and melodrama and everything else we would ordinarily cringe at - period dramas. I mean, look at this clip from Persuasion:
The premise of it pretty much the same as that clip from The Holiday, but the feelings evoked are totally different. I no longer have my sarcastic goggles on. I am totally enraptured by the drama. Of course, the fact that the story was written by Jane Austen immediately improves any drama. Still, imagine this in a present-day capacity - cheesiness beyond compare.

So perhaps, like so many other things that we find distasteful, we can only stomach our cheese wrapped in the respectable cloak of the period drama. But this must mean that we actually love cheese, but we're too repressed and embarrassed as a society to admit it. What do you reckon?

P.S. Here is an example of British cheesiness gone terribly wrong (not for the faint-hearted):

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